Posted on Thursday, July 28th, 2016 by Corey Atad
There’s no question Mr. Robot’s second season has started off slow. It has engendered complaints. Impatience. The truth is, this is common for TV series in a new season. Mad Men, for example, frequently got complaints during the first few episodes of each season, with people claiming it had finally lost its luster, or that nothing interesting was happening. Of course, once each season was over, the long game had become clear. More than just setup, those early episodes set the tone, established the overriding mission of the season, and helped give shape to the movement that would become apparent episodes later.
It’s immediately clear to me that Mr. Robot is doing something similar in its second season. The first season put pedal to the metal, catching up with Elliot and company mid-plot. Season 2 thus far has done something of a reset. Where the show has always been an interior exploration, the first three episodes of Season 2 have prized interiority above all. It’s hard to tell exactly what that’s all for, but it would be a mistake to assume it’s about plot. Plot can be handled easily and quickly, but defining a perspective, both of character and style, takes more work, especially when it represents a sharp change from what came before.
The season’s fourth episode, “Init1,” appears to begin the “payoff,” such as there will be one. Its style has begun to coalesce into something more coherent and emotionally compelling. Its plotting finally appears to signal some forward momentum after a period of forced stasis. And, just as we’d hope from this show, it creates more and more mysteries, more questions to be answered.
Let’s take a look at some of those questions, shall we? And remember, spoilers are to come, so you best have watched the episode in question.
Who instigated all this?
For a long time it could have been reasonably assumed that Elliot, in full consciousness or not, initiated the show’s storyline. This episode calls that into question. Not on the literal fact of who came up with the idea to hack E Corp—that was definitely Elliot, as we learn—but the ambiguity of cause and effect. Who pushed whom, and who is really in control. There are indications that outside forces are actually pulling the strings—such ’70s-era paranoia! Let’s leave those forces aside for a moment, though, and focus in on Darlene. In the episode’s cold open we see the moment Darlene came back into Elliot’s life. He tells her that he was fired from his job after they locked him in the server room and he destroyed all their hardware. He’s now seeing a therapist for anger management.
Meanwhile, Darlene has troubles of her own. She suffers panic attacks, and talks about wanting to remember their father. “Do you want to see something,” Elliot asks, and he shows her the Mr. Robot jacket he’s kept in his closet. She gets him to put it on, along with the fsociety mask—a mask from a weird old movie called The Careful Massacre of the Bourgeoisie. It’s in this moment, with the mask on, that Elliot envisions the E Corp hack. His idea, pushed into being by Darlene. We are nothing without the people who push us into action. But as Elliot tells her even then, the action isn’t enough. It’s the follow-through that will be most important in taking E Corp down. The hack alone won’t do it. A good metaphor for a series’ purpose in its second season, of course.
Mrs. Wellick, what’s your game?
Tyrell Wellick is still missing, and it’s causing problems for Joanna. Her emotional attachment to Tyrell is becoming less and less clear by the episode, but in this episode we find her scrambling for income. Her motivation, above all, is to provide the best, most well financed life for her newborn son. Her fling with the bartender/DJ-wannabe? It’s just that. He gives her the escape. But showing up at Scott Knowles’ house to offer him a deal—she’ll testify against Tyrell’s alibi in exchange for his severance package—is quite a play. Knowles refuses, saying that Tyrell’s baby will get exactly what he deserves, nothing. But it’s not even clear that Joanna meant what she said. Between her shady behavior, and that scary bodyguard of hers, it seems clear there’s something else going on beyond securing her own safety and income. Unless that really is all she wants, and like the best (and worst) parents, she’ll stop at nothing to achieve it. Where she takes this is anyone’s guess, and how things change if Tyrell ever comes back will be something to watch for.
Now what about Chekhov’s gun?
Put a gun on screen in Act 1, and watch it go off in Act 3. The rules of drama are so clear. Sure, you can play with them. Maybe the gun doesn’t go off at all. Surprise! Twist audience expectations and elicit a new response. In Season 1, Elliot stashed a gun in the popcorn machine at the arcade. At the end of the season we were reminded of the hidden gun as Tyrell Wellick looked over fsociety’s work. In the Season 2 premiere we got a flashback that saw Elliot reaching for the gun. Whatever happened to the gun, whether or not it even went off, Sam Esmail has pulled a neat trick, skipping over that Act 3 payoff, feeding us the answer piecemeal in retrospect. It’s all still a mystery, but we got another clue this week, with the FBI finding an empty bullet casing in the arcade—literally the only clue they found on the premises. An empty casing must mean a bullet was fired, right? Maybe. This is Mr. Robot, so the surface may not mean much. What actually happened the night of the hack is still a huge question mark.